Given the dominant theme of the questions sent in this week, maybe we're wrong about the assumption we make about readers that is discussed in the first answer.
D.E. in Lancaster, PA, asks: For the August 31st item on TFG's continuing legal woes, you wrote: "Another day, another bunch of news about Donald Trump's legal situation. Sigh. There's no question that this stuff is very significant to American politics in general, and to the 2024 presidential election in particular, and those things are our foci. So, away we go."
Maybe it was the way I read this paragraph, and I admit sometimes snark loses translation when printed, but it seems like there is an unspoken line after "those things are our foci (but I wish they weren't today)." There does seem to be a bit of weariness to your attitude for what might be not only the greatest American scandal, but possibly in all of history. I mean, it's not everyday that the highest government leader commits treason and/or espionage against their own country for financial gain. So why the lack of enthusiasm for this unfolding story? Could it be just weariness from having to write about Trump's many outrages or crimes for almost 6 years now, almost nonstop? Or is it that you think/fear he will skate scott free from this situation as well, as clearly the GOP will not hold him accountable for any egregious crimes and just can't bear to see justice stomped on again? Or maybe a certain somebody was nursing a hangover from celebrating their birthday the day before? Just curious.
V & Z answer: There is a story about a famous violinist—probably Niccolo Paganini, but it may have been Antonio Vivaldi—who deliberately used frayed strings when performing. His hope was that one of them would break, and he would be "forced" to show how skillfully he was able to play, even down one string.
On a similar note, Trump legal stories do not provide us with an opportunity to do the things we do best—to show off our skills, like Paganini (or Vivaldi). We're not lawyers and, besides, there are too many unknowns to be able to do solid analysis or to reach firm conclusions. Mostly, all we can add is the same stuff we've written 100 times before, e.g. "It's going to take lottery-level luck for Trump to get out of the trouble he's in."
We also guess—perhaps wrongly—that these items are not especially enjoyable for readers. The things Trump does are divisive, unpleasant, and destructive. That's kind of a downer. And it follows on the heels, as you point out, of 6 years' worth of him doing divisive, unpleasant, and destructive things, from the vile mockery of opponents to the tweets to his willingness to abuse his powers in service of his own needs.
We do not fear he will skate on these crimes—our sense is that both AG Merrick Garland and Fulton County DA Fani Willis have passed the point of no return, and there would be considerably more harm done in NOT charging Trump than in charging him. We may be wrong about that, but that is our sense of things.
As to the birthday, (Z) is not the staff mathematician, and has never once been drunk. His main birthday party was on Sunday, and, per his custom, was a scavenger hunt that he organized, followed by a late lunch. His actual birthday, on Tuesday, was spent having dinner with, as chance would have it, an E-V.com reader and that reader's family. On both occasions, he drank... Shirley Temples. First, because that is his preferred "bar" drink. Second, because even if he was inclined to imbibe, he's still on medication from the illness that wiped out the Q&A/mailbag a month ago, and that would make the consumption of alcohol risky.
J.L.J. in San Francisco, CA, asks: I've asked a question a few times among those around me, and am not getting a satisfying answer, so I turn to you and your readers. I get the impression the question is either not being asked well, or simply not being actually understood. So I'll do my best: in a trial in this nation, you have a right to see the evidence against you. That's part of discovery. And all evidence is available to the judge and jury, too. If you have stolen classified documents, and they're especially sensitive, could the government simply choose to not prosecute you because they do not want that information to be presented as evidence in an open court?
V & Z answer: First, one of the most important things a judge does is try to balance competing interests. Second, there is no constitutional right we are aware of that is absolute.
This particular situation is currently governed by the Classified Information Procedures Act of 1980, which is now 18a U.S. Code 1-16. And the purpose of the law, as explained in the manual provided by the Department of Justice to U.S. Attorneys, is to "balance the right of a criminal defendant with the right of the sovereign to know in advance of a potential threat from a criminal prosecution to its national security." Put another way, a defendant can't necessarily have access to everything if doing do would threaten national security.
The exact procedures are pretty involved, but the executive summary is that in any case involving classified documents, a Classified Information Security Officer (CISO) and several alternates are appointed. They are responsible for managing the process; seeing to it that the needs of both the classifying agency and the legal process are accommodated as best as is possible.
Generally speaking, the judges and attorneys in the case (but not the defendant) are allowed to see everything, albeit in a properly secure setting (usually a temporary sensitive compartmented information facility). For purposes of the trial, and the jury, the classified documents are generally replaced by a document stipulating as to their contents, but not revealing anything sensitive. The inventory of documents taken from Mar-a-Lago is an excellent example of this kind of document.
If a stipulation won't do it, in the view of the judge, then the next option is a redacted version of the actual document. If that still won't do it, again in the view of the judge, then sometimes the actual documents will be used. The jury is not required to get clearance in that scenario, but they are warned about the consequences of revealing what they saw. If the judge concludes that the actual, unredacted documents are necessary, and the government just isn't willing to take that chance, then sometimes a prosecution will be dropped, but that is quite rare.
The Classified Information Procedures Act was specifically passed because, in the 1970s, some defendants got away with classified-document-related crimes, primarily by threatening to leak or "accidentally" leaking, classified information that they had been given as part of discovery. This is called "graymail."
R.S. in San Mateo, CA, asks: I am continually frustrated by frequent reports of legal investigations being delayed because of their proximity to an election. Am I able to have my legal troubles tabled when I'm up for a promotion? As far as I can tell, there is nothing about that enshrined in law, and it's usually just some talking point that someone comes up with when it favors them. The latest is Judge Robert McBurney in Georgia, who halted Gov. Brian Kemp's (R-GA) grand jury appearance: "Remaining is the question of when the Governor will need to honor his subpoena. The answer is after the November 2022 general election. The Governor is in the midst of re-election campaign and this criminal grand jury investigation should not be used by the District Attorney, the Governor's opponent, or the Governor himself to influence the outcome of that election."
Says who? Maybe letting the subpoena proceed will influence the election. Maybe delaying it will influence the election. Shouldn't a judge be agnostic about that? On what grounds can a judge declare a standard that is not based on any law? And can Fani Willis appeal that part of it for having no legal foundation?
V & Z answer: This is another example of a judge balancing competing interests. On one hand, justice must be served. On the other hand, elections must be as free and fair as is possible.
However, in this case, it's a pretty easy call. The downside to waiting another couple of months is pretty small. The downside to allowing consequential legal actions to happen in the midst of election season is potentially quite large. If you doubt it, recall the impact of James Comey's "October Surprise" announcement about Hillary Clinton's e-mails.
If the issue was something extremely time-sensitive, the calculus might be different. For example, if the FBI were to have strong evidence Donald Trump was planning to flee the country in the next week, they might ask for an arrest warrant and get it, even in the middle of an election cycle. But indictments are not generally time-critical in the same way.
C.T. in Cape Coral, FL, asks: So, the Department of Justice and the National Security Agency have reviewed the classified materials seized from Trump. What do you foresee as to the timing of indicting him? People with fewer classified documents than he had were already indicted by this time. Or is it the magnitude of what he kept that's delaying indictment?
V & Z answer: Obviously, we have no inside information. However, it is surely too close to the November elections to indict, at this point, even if Donald Trump and his various acolytes are not candidates. Meanwhile, given his longstanding habits of foot-dragging and appealing everything, waiting too long after the election runs the risk of the process spilling into the next cycle, when he might very well be a candidate.
This suggests that roughly mid-November to mid-February is going to be primetime for actually indicting the former president. Added bonus: People rarely riot when it's cold, particularly if it's also snowing/raining.
R.M.S. in Lebanon, CT, asks: The main reason for Donald Trump's push to have a special master review the documents seized from Mar-a-Lago is that the FBI seized documents they are not entitled to have. In particular, he claims they are covered by executive privilege or attorney-client privilege.
Do you think this is possible?
I don't see how he can claim the documents are protected by executive privilege. How can he assert executive privilege over a document to protect it from being shared with a department of the executive branch? Since there is only one president at a time, how does he have the legal authority to assert executive privilege when the current administration says they are not privileged?
The idea that the documents are protected by attorney-client privilege seems even more ludicrous. The documents in question are the property of the federal government, not private communications between Trump and his lawyers.
In short, I think these claims are worth less than the toilet paper I flushed last night. Trump and supporters seem to think he is a president-in-exile rather than a private citizen who is in legal jeopardy.
Do you agree?
V & Z answer: We largely agree, except that we don't believe that Trump and his followers are actually, consistently embracing the legal theory that he's still president, and are acting accordingly.
What we do believe is that Trump has spent his entire career operating in the gray areas of the law, and throwing things at the wall to see what sticks. He has shown savant-like abilities in this area, and that continued into his presidency.
Executive privilege is an under-defined area of the law, one that is built almost entirely on custom and on a few Supreme Court decisions. Attorney-client privilege is much better defined, but there is still a lot of room there for interpretation. So, Trump and his lawyers are trying to exploit those available ambiguities, since that's about all they've got. And whether the former president realizes it or not, he's not only relying on the ability of his own lawyers to come up with some legal hocus-pocus, he's also relying on the courts, which often bend over backwards to make sure his rights are observed since his actual attorneys are usually so godawful.
Trump's problem here is that in past cases where he flung things at the wall, and nothing stuck, he could always settle the case by paying some amount of money. That ain't gonna fly in criminal prosecutions brought by the federal government or by the state of Georgia. And there is very little chance that either executive privilege, or attorney-client privilege (or, for that matter, demands for a special master) are going to help him here.
G.R. in Iqaluit, NU, Canada, asks: Donald Trump had previously advocated for the death penalty for Edward Snowden and Julian Assange (from what I recall). Ironically, it seems likely that he may be charged with the same crimes that they committed. What would you place the odds at that Donald Trump could actually face the death penalty for his actions? Is there any way his actions could rise to that level of punishment? Especially if it is discovered he sold or gave away top secret information?
V & Z answer: The odds of Donald Trump being put to death are 0.00%.
Obviously, he's not going to be put to death for making a couple of phone calls to Georgia, so we're really talking about the federal crimes here. There are a total of 41 federal capital crimes. And 39 of those explicitly require one or more people to die (for example, commission of genocide, assassination of a member of Congress, or destruction of aircraft resulting in death).
Barring shocking new revelations, there is no evidence that Trump's actions led to anyone's death—at least, not in a way that would trigger a federal statute. You might plausibly give him some/most of the blame for the death of someone like Ashli Babbitt on 1/6, but nearly all of the federal capital crimes involving death require a murder. Among those that do not, the closest to being applicable to the insurrection is 18 U.S. Code 2332, which establishes the death penalty as a possible punishment for "acts of terrorism in the United States resulting in death." A prosecutor might be able to argue that Trump's role in egging on the insurrection was an act of terrorism. It would be a tough argument to pull off, but... maybe. However, the statute also requires that the terrorist act be "committed by a person engaged in conduct that transcends national boundaries." Clearly, that does not apply here.
That leaves us with the two federal capital crimes that do not explicitly require someone to be dead. The first of those is treason which, under current law, can only involve a nation with which the United States is formally at war. There are none of those right now, so that's off the table.
The final remaining statute is the one establishing the death penalty as a possible punishment for... acts of espionage. This is far and away the one most likely to apply to Trump. However, there are still three problems. First, it would have to be proven that he gave, or intended to give, classified documents to an enemy of the United States. Second, although the statute is not explicit on this point, it's generally understood that the espionage has to directly lead to someone's death in order for the death penalty to be imposed. Third, and most importantly, the U.S. has executed a grand two of two civilians for acts of espionage: Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. If Robert Hanssen (whose acts of espionage most definitely led to people dying) was not executed, there's no way Trump would be.
And all of this, of course, is before we talk about the optics of executing a former president, which would be... bad.
M.L. in Columbus, OH, asks: I wanted to get your take on why Donald Trump didn't just keep a copy of those top secret documents? Would anyone have known he kept them if he had kept photocopies? Clearly he was aware that he did not return documents as requested. Is he unaware of that new technology, or is there some hidden value in having a copy of something that is not in the archives?
V & Z answer: We can think of four possible explanations, any, all, or none of which might be correct.
First, we don't yet know what Trump's purpose was in keeping the documents. However, if he planned to sell them, or he wanted a talisman to serve as a reminder of how powerful he is/was, or he wanted to show off for visitors, then an original is much more useful than a copy.
Second, there are some things that either don't copy well, or don't scan well, or both. Photographs, for example, depending on how detailed they are and how they were printed. Things that are already a copy (or a second-generation copy, or a third-generation copy). Documents with certain colors of ink—light blue, for example, is non-reprographic, and will not copy at all, while it scans only poorly. It's also possible that some documents have anti-copying/anti-scanning technology built in, the way U.S. dollars do.
Third, scanning or copying dozens of boxes full of documents is a long, tedious job, especially given that he took more than 10,000 different documents (not all of them classified). Surely, Trump wouldn't do it himself, nor would the members of his inner circle (like, say, Mark Meadows). But if you assign the job to a low-level lackey, they are likely to figure out what's going on pretty quickly, and might run to one of the Inspectors General, or to the press, or to Congress, or to the FBI, or to all of the above.
Fourth, and finally, it really looks like Trump drank the Kool-Aid and believed that he was going to stay in the White House. He does not seem to have bowed to reality until very near the bitter end. So, there may not have been time for making copies.
A.S. in Black Mountain, NC, asks: Do the feds have "official" fingerprints of TFG? Do they have fingerprints of all staff and political folks that work in the White House?
V & Z answer: The FBI collects fingerprints in a lot of ways. They have the fingerprints of most people who are booked by law enforcement, of course. And if you join the armed forces, or you apply for a security clearance, or you apply for many federal jobs, you get fingerprinted, so the Bureau has the prints of many federal employees through those channels.
A president is automatically granted the highest possible security clearance, so they are not subject to this process. That means that their fingerprints are not on file as a matter of course. We have the fingerprints of many presidents from one of the above channels (for example, here are Dwight D. Eisenhower's fingerprints from when he was inducted into the U.S. Army, and here are Ronald Reagan's from when he applied for a security clearance in 1966 so he could serve on the Atomic Energy Commission). However, we can find no evidence that Trump's fingerprints are on file.
There are, of course, ways the government can get Trump's fingerprints if they need them. They can lift them from something he's known to have touched. They can also get a court order requiring him to submit to fingerprinting. And if he's booked then he will be fingerprinted as a matter of course.
Note that there is a meme floating around that purports to show Trump's fingerprint:
This is just a joke, though. You know, small hands.
J.E. in Boone, NC, asks: Many are calling for Donald Trump to be charged by the Department of Justice over the many documents he took to Mar-a-Lago. Elsewhere, I read that he should be indicted for the same. I'm not sure what the difference is between charging or indicting. Can you please explain the difference and give us your best percentage guess as to which will happen? Also, with multiple areas of violation, e.g. obstruction, espionage, Records Act violations, etc., which is he most likely to be charged with or indicted for?
Oops! Sorry! Third question: Do you exclude questions or lower grades for a dangled participle? That should have been: "...for which is he most likely to be charged or indicated?"
V & Z answer: Charges come from a prosecutor, an indictment comes from a grand jury. Both Merrick Garland and Fani Willis have been running everything through a grand jury (for example, that's where the Mar-a-Lago search warrant originated), so you can be absolutely certain that is where any formal action against Trump will come from. Not only is that the normal order of things, it helps underscore that the process is dispassionate and "of the people," and is not political.
We would say Trump is most likely to be indicted for his actions in Georgia. Next up is violations of the Records Act, and third is obstruction. He's got other exposure, of course, but you can only put a 76-year-old man in prison for so many years, and it makes the most sense to go for the lowest-hanging fruit. He is most clearly in hot water on those three fronts, and Willis, in particular, is doing her best impression of a pit bull.
We do not reject questions due to abstruse grammar issues, nor does (Z)—the only person between the two of us who regularly grades essays—allow that to affect grades.
V.W. in Wilmington, DE, asks: Thank you for addressing the topic of the second U.S. Civil War. Back in the early '00s, when I was teaching high school students, one of my favorite questions was "What will cause the next American Civil War—racial conflict or water rights?" Heated conversations ensued. Now, in 2022, it seems the answer is: "both, and plenty more!' With the benefit of the longer arc of time, though, I wonder if I've missed the bigger picture. Have we been in the Second Civil War since McVeigh in Oklahoma City, 1995? How would you assess the trendline from that act of domestic terrorism through politically/racially motivated shootings and acts leading up to 1/6, the Buffalo Tops shooting, and other recent attacks from people identifying with what you refer to as "whackadoodle element" of the far right? [Yes, I know not all shootings and acts of violence are far-right inspired; my question pertains to those many that are and the link between them]. Are we in a Second Civil War already? Its prelude? Or something else?
V & Z answer: When (Z) teaches modern U.S. history, he begins on the first day by going through the eras that the class will cover (to wit, The Gilded Age, the Progressive Era, World War I, the Roaring Twenties, the Great Depression, World War II, the Cold War, and... ?). The concluding point of that little exercise is that sometimes the dominant theme of an era is present while it's underway (e.g., when a world war is happening), but more often it takes hindsight and a long view. So, our current era might come the be known as the Information Era, or the Second Gilded Age, or the Trump Era, or the Second Cold War, or the Age of Globalization, or something else—we just can't tell right now.
As to your question, (Z) has consistently taken the position that a repeat of the original Civil War is not plausible. But if we broaden our definition of "civil war" to include something like repeated acts of domestic terrorism? Yes, that is within the realm of possibility. So maybe it will eventually become clear that we're in a Second Civil War, and the current era will acquire a name. That said, the existence of a state of war, even of civil war, generally requires a few things, including: (1) that all parties acknowledge the existence of a state of war, and (2) that there are "regular" engagements (usually no more than 3-4 months apart). Those standards do not appear to have been met, as yet.
E.H. in Calgary, Canada, asks: In your civil war item this week, you wrote that likelihood of a state trying to secede was low, as the federal government would respond harshly. My question is simple: Why?
I'm thinking of Texas as an example and assuming a Democrat is President. Its departure would of course have a negative economic impact. On the other hand, it would make much of the border issue another country's problem and get rid of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). But most importantly, the removal of Texas from the House and Senate would favor the Democrats, and its removal from the Electoral College works strongly favor them. If democracy is truly at risk from Republicans, losing some GDP seems like a low price to pay for decreasing their influence and chance of controlling the government.
V & Z answer: First, we think you understate what a nightmare it would be to divorce a state, particularly one of that size, from the union. Would Texas inherit some percentage of the national debt? If so, how much? Would Texas continue using U.S. currency and the U.S. banking system or establish its own? What about military equipment and personnel in Texas? Would those stay or go? What about federally owned land and property in Texas? Would it be handed over for free, or would Texas have to pay for it? What about trade agreements? Diplomatic relationships? Classified information? Passports? The list of tricky issues to resolve would be endless. It would be like Brexit, except a hundred times worse.
More importantly—and this is the point that Abraham Lincoln had to work very hard, on a regular basis, to impress upon the Northern people—is that once you let one state leave, you set a precedent. If Texas is allowed to go, why not Alabama, or Mississippi, or Oklahoma.? And if enough time passed, eventually New York would decide it doesn't want to be in the same country with California, or Wisconsin would decide it doesn't want to be in the same country with Washington. Slowly, but surely, the country would dissolve entirely.
Though we admit that getting rid of Ted Cruz would almost be worth it. If we could get a package deal with him taking Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene as well, it's a done deal.
P.B. in Gainesville, FL, asks: We were trying to find Joe Biden's speech Thursday night on the regular TV networks, but none of them varied from their scheduled programming. So I went online to find out what happened, and learned that the networks apparently all decided not to carry it. I eventually found a recorded version, but... huh?? How can they just ignore an address to the nation from the president? What just happened to journalistic integrity? Is there some policy I've never heard of that lets them skate on something this important? What's going on?
V & Z answer: Broadcast networks are not now, and never have been, required to carry presidential speeches. Sometimes they do because of the great newsworthiness of the occasion, but to do so costs them a lot of money, and can be very disruptive to their schedules, particularly if they are not able to plan well in advance (as they are able to do with, for example, the State of the Union).
The networks' judgment was that the speech was more about the campaign than it was about policy, and that it therefore did not reach the necessary level of newsworthiness. They were unquestionably right about the first part of that, and we would agree with their judgment as to the second part, particularly since just about everyone was able to find the speech on cable (CNN, MSNBC and C-SPAN carried it) or online. If there was no Internet and there was no cable TV, the networks would likely have made a different choice.
M.M. in Newbury Park, CA, asks: In 2016, Hillary Clinton referred to many Trump supporters as being part of a "basket of deplorables." I agreed with her. I find it fascinating that there are normal mainstream Republicans and also white-supremacist conspiracy-theory Republicans and they vote for the person and are fine with that. But she caught a lot of heat for that statement and some say it really helped Trump.
This week, President Biden called MAGA Republicans "fascists." Do you foresee him getting similar backlash? Why did he and his people think this was an acceptable risk? And what fundamentally is the difference between the two statements?
V & Z answer: There is a whole area of scholarship, meme theory, that tries to figure out why some things gain traction when most things do not. Deplorables is a pretty loaded word, and also not one in common use, so it's not surprising that it gained wide traction as an anti-Hillary Clinton slogan. Similarly, one does not generally use "Let's Go Brandon" in daily conversation, so it's easy to see how that was appropriated for the purpose it was.
What Biden actually said this week was that the MAGA Republicans are "semi-fascist." He decided that Americans needed to know that there's a danger out there, and that he's well aware of it. And though he backed off of semi-fascist a little bit, he doubled down on the basic sentiment with his speech on Thursday.
We doubt that semi-fascist or fascist will ever catch on the way deplorables did. Frankly, we don't think that most people, particularly most Trumpers, fully understand what that means, or why it might be offensive.
S.T. in Philadelphia, PA, asks: I watched the speech President Biden gave earlier this week, in Wilkes-Barre, PA. It was streamed from whitehouse.gov, accompanied by the U.S. Marine band, and the audience was full of apparently on-duty uniformed police and firefighters, standing at attention. Unmistakably an official event, using public funds.
Yet the President blatantly used the forum to campaign for John Fetterman and Josh Shapiro, saying "He'll make a hell of a senator" or "He'll make a hell of a governor," and even telling people "get out there and elect Democrats" after railing against Republican obstruction.
How is this not a violation of the Hatch Act?
V & Z answer: Because the Hatch Act explicitly excludes the president and vice president from its provisions. You can see for yourself here (first sentence of that subsection of 5 U.S. Code 7322).
R.C. in Des Moines, IA, asks: Are there any data showing approximately how many Trump-Biden voters there were in 2020?
V & Z answer: You are referring to people who voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and then shifted to Biden in 2020. This sort of question is the specialty of the good people at Pew Research, and they report that in 2020, Trump kept about 94% of his voters from 2016. That means about 3.5 milllion people fled the S.S. Trump.
That is not why Joe Biden won the election, however, because about 3 million voters shifted in the other direction. The primary gains that Biden made were among people who didn't vote in 2016, and people who voted third-party in 2016. Those folks are the reason he won.
J.L. in Chicago, IL, asks: You, and others, seem to be getting more optimistic about the Democrats' chances in November. While I would love to believe it, much of this seems to be based on polls. The experience in recent years, as you have covered in the past, is that even high-quality polling operations have really struggled to get their models right the last few cycles. We have repeatedly seen Republican candidates overperform polling predictions, possibly due to Republican voters (especially "MAGA" voters) being less likely to respond or respond truthfully to polls. Do you have confidence that polling operations have figured out how to adjust for this problem and other recent problems such that the 2022 polls are likely to be reliable or should we be prepared for the possibility of Sen Oz and similar, notwithstanding current indications?
V & Z answer: In truth, there is no way to accurately correct for the fact that some MAGA Republicans refuse to talk to pollsters. What pollsters can do (and the better ones will do), is make a model of what percentage of the electorate is Republican based on recent general elections. Then they weight the samples accordingly. So, for example, if in some state Trump got 48% of the vote in 2020 and the Republican candidate for senator got 50%, then the pollster could assume ca. 49% of the voters there are Republicans. If the random sample for the 2022 poll shows that 46% are Republicans, the pollster will weight each Republican's responses to the questions by 1.065 (49/46). In other words, if 500 respondents said they would vote for the Republican in November, the pollster will count that as 533 votes for the Republican, not 500. It's not perfect, but it is probably the best anyone can do. Another thing to watch is how close the Democrat is to 50% after weighting. Above 50% is often a useful indicator, since then even if all the undecideds break for the Republican, the Democrat will still win.
We should also add that some of the evidence that there won't be a red wave is based not on polling but on actual results. As we've written several times, Democrats are clearly doing much better in special elections since Dobbs. Further, there are some polling questions that are not tainted by MAGA mischief, like the ones that gauge Democratic enthusiasm. That enthusiasm is way up in the last couple of months.
J.I. in San Francisco, CA, asks: You wrote about a recent poll that reported that 12% of people were "undecided" between POTUS and FPOTUS and you wondered what they are "waiting to see." So, that just begs the question: Do the pollsters ever ask these folks why they are undecided, or what they would need to see to become decided, and then include the top few reasons in the results somewhere? It seems that would be more useful to know than just "undecided."
V & Z answer: Occasionally, yes. However, it's very hard to fashion questions that produce good data, especially since the people may not fully know themselves what they are waiting for. It's even harder to fashion those questions in a way that does not come off as judgmental, and that might cause the respondent to hang up.
P.S. in Marion, IA, asks: Can we consider retiring the "high turnout = Good for Democrats, low turnout = good for Republicans" mantra?
Special elections and run-offs which (almost by design) have lower turnouts have been mostly good news for Democrats. There have been somewhat unexpected victories (Alabama Senate 2017, 2020-21 Georgia Senate runoffs, NY-19) in special elections, and many other instances where the Democratic candidates have punched above their weight. Furthermore, the stratospheric turnout of Election Day 2020 didn't do much to buoy Democrats at all as Biden's win and the House majority was far narrower than expected.
There seems to be plenty of evidence that the shifts in upper-middle class suburbia (more college educated) to the blue team, and white working class/non-college voters to the red team may continue on for the foreseeable future. The former is more likely to turn out no matter what, where the latter may be less reliable, especially without a cult-like figure at the top of the ticket to motivate them. Other smaller shifts of note, like the widening gender gap, an inch for some Hispanic voters toward the red team, and military votes drifting toward the blue team also seem to hint that the more "reliable"/every-time voters are shifting blue.
Can we at least add a "maybe" to that conventional wisdom that's been baked into every election analysis for decades?
V & Z answer: We are generally in agreement with you, and have written as much a few times.
That said, many Republican officeholders and officials believe that their party is hurt by high turnout, and so act accordingly (e.g., passing Voter ID laws). Also, those laws are often carefully targeted, for example, requiring certain kinds of ID to vote. They know that their base usually has the ID but poor minority voters may not have cards and drivers' licenses and certainly not passports or Global Entry cards.
L.K. in Los Angeles, CA, asks: Assuming the Republicans capture the House in the Fall, but the Democrats keep the Senate, how likely do you think it is that the crazies in the House GOP refuse to pass the budget and just let the government shut down for two years? How much damage would that cause?
V & Z answer: This is about as unlikely as Donald Trump being executed (see above).
Leaving the government without a budget for 2 years would be devastating (particularly when paired, presumably, with a failure to increase the debt limit). And everyone would be clear exactly what party was responsible.
Further, the House might end up with enough nutty Republicans to hold the Republican conference hostage, and perhaps to keep House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) from being promoted to speaker. But the whackadoodle faction doesn't have enough people to shut down the whole House. And what would happen eventually is that the non-whackadoodle Republicans and the Democrats would hammer something out.
S.R. in Kansas City, MO, asks: Are the November election dynamics in Alaska enough different from the primary for Palin to win the full term?
V & Z answer: They certainly could be. Turnout will be higher, of course. More importantly, perhaps, is that everyone will be aware of how the special election turned out. That could motivate Democrats to get to the polls to try to hold the seat. But it could motivate Republicans, instead. Or it could cause Republican voters to get on board with ranked-choice voting, as it appears that some of them did not put a second and a third choice, either out of protest or out of a lack of understanding. Oh, and there will also be a fourth candidate on the ballot this time, Libertarian Chris Bye, as opposed to three.
That said, Sarah Palin seems to be pretty unpopular. We would guess that if a Republican wins that seat, it will be Nick Begich.
E.W. in Skaneateles, NY, asks: As you have written many times, voters get tired of seeing the same at over and over again especially in one evening. Since some candidates are rolling in dough this cycle, why don't they make 10 or 20 ads and rotate them instead of just playing the same one over and over? Surely a candidate with nearly unlimited funds could hire multiple ad agencies to make many different kinds of ads. Is there any evidence that variety in political ads makes a difference?
V & Z answer: We can't find anyone who has studied variety in ads. What we can say is that candidates do generally have multiple ads running at any one time, at least in medium-sized and large-sized markets. The problem is that if you show the candidate, and you hit on the same talking points, it's not too easy to really distinguish the commercials in an obvious way.
Maybe a candidate could create two entirely different series of ads, say the way that Progressive has both the "Flo" ads and the "Dr. Rick" ads. But that would take a lot of creativity, and Progressive has had years to establish those two ad campaigns, as opposed to the months that a political candidate has.
M.W. in Worms, Germany, asks: In your item "Crist Raises $1 Million on First Day as Democratic Nominee...," you mention that Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) is being made fun of on Twitter for his Top Gov ad. However, as someone who doesn't use either Twitter or Instagram, I realized that all or most of the comments on YouTube regarding this ad are overwhelmingly positive. Which is more representative? It seems to me it is not enough to point out the scorn on Twitter since this doesn't illuminate the other side of the reception spectrum. Is it clear which side is the minority?
V & Z answer: Scorn generally does a politician more harm than praise does them good. Further, YouTube's algorithm very aggressively feeds content to people based on their having liked similar content in the past. So, people are far, far more likely to see a Ron DeSantis commercial if they've watched other DeSantis content, or Fox's feed, or commercials for other Republicans. Twitter does some of this, but nowhere near as aggressively.
J.L. in Paterson, NJ, asks: You write that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) won't bring any impeachment resolutions to a vote. I wonder about that strategy. Assuming that the resolution would be doomed by unanimous Democratic opposition, the vote might put some Republicans on the spot. A Republican representing a swing district could vote "Yea," and thus lose some support among independents and non-Trumpeter Republicans, or could vote "Nay," and thus discourage some true believers from bothering to show up to vote for a RINO. Do you think Pelosi might benefit from such a move?
V & Z answer: No. Doing so would not only give some amount of legitimacy to whatever charge was being made (Fox: "Even a Democratic speaker saw the need for a Biden impeachment"), it would also give some amount of legitimacy to the use of impeachment as a political stunt.
T.J. in Lovettsville, VA, asks: I keep reading about the need to build more charging stations for long distance driving. Certainly true, but I think much more urgent is to get "home" charging ports to people who live in apartment buildings and condos. The economic benefits of EVs is partly lost if one cannot use relatively cheap home electricity to charge, and studies show that virtually all commuting can be done based solely on charging overnight at home. Primarily using a commercial station is not much better than buying gasoline. Does the new law provide incentives for apartment building owners to install charge stations?
V & Z answer: Yes, the new law has a provision called the Alternative Fuel Refueling Property Credit, which gives a tax break of up to 30% of the cost of installing charging equipment (capped at $1,000). Since many localities also give a credit (it's $500 in Los Angeles, for example), then one might plausibly install a home charger nearly for free.
The problem with apartments and condos is that someone has to pay for that electricity. Landlords are not generally going to be keen to assume that ongoing cost, and there isn't currently a great way to pass the cost on to the tenants who actually use the electricity. There are ways this could be overcome, but they are not incorporated into the bill. Technically it is sometimes doable. (V) lives in a building with an underground parking garage where everyone has an assigned parking space. Residents can have a charging port installed at their space (at their own expense) if they buy an electric car. Then the resident is charged for the electricity the car consumes.
And we must also note that even commercial chargers are generally considerably cheaper than gas. That is true even if it's really cheap gas and a really expensive charger.
L.V.A. in Idaho Falls, ID, asks: Is there anything in the U.S. Constitution that prohibits a state from allowing those under 18 years of age to vote in a federal election?
V & Z answer: Nope. The Constitution decrees that states cannot deny the vote on the basis of race or gender, and that states must extend the franchise to anyone over 18, but establishes no lower limit.
Indeed, at the moment, there are 17 states (Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Virginia, Vermont) that allow 17-year-old voters to participate in all primaries/caucuses as long as they will be 18 by Election Day. There are another four states (West Virginia. Iowa, Minnesota, and Nevada) that allow 17-year-olds to vote in presidential caucuses/primaries if they will be 18 by Election Day. And there are 6 states (Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Washington, and Wyoming) where 17-year-olds can vote in all Democratic caucuses/primaries if they will be 18 by Election Day. The latter decision was made by the state party organization, of course; why their Republican counterparts are not following suit, and so are allowing the blue team to get a head start on registering young people, is an excellent question.
M.D. in San Tan Valley, AZ, asks: With the emergence, lately, of state Lieutenant Governors running for U.S. Senate, I started wondering. Could you tell us when this position first became a part of a state's constitution? Why do some states have LGs but not others? Lastly, could you also provide a list of former Lieutenant Governor's who went on to hold a higher office like Governor or U.S. Senator?
V & Z answer: The office of lieutenant governor has existed throughout U.S. history, and all of the original 13 colonies/states had that position.
Quite often, of course, the person in that job has little to do other than check to see if the governor is still alive. Some states allow the lieutenant governor to run the state if the governor is away, but that can lead to problems if the lieutenant governor and governor don't see eye-to-eye on things. Other states have tried to find useful jobs for the lieutenant governor to do, but that runs the risk of making the lieutenant governor more powerful than the governor. In Texas, for example, the lieutenant governor presides over the state Senate, meaning that he or she often has more influence than the governor does.
For these reasons, five states don't have a lieutenant governor. In those cases, the primary purpose of the lieutenant governor (succeeding the governor) is assigned to some other officeholder. The five are Arizona (secretary of state), Maine (Senate president), New Hampshire (Senate president), Oregon (secretary of state) and Wyoming (secretary of state).
The number of lieutenant governors who have gone on to be governors is in the multiple hundreds, and the number that have gone on to be U.S. Senators is over a hundred, so it would be impractical to list them all here. However, we'll tell you that only two lieutenant governors went on to be president. Can you guess one of the two? We'll give you a hint: They served consecutively as president. The answer is at the bottom of the page.
R.H.D. in Webster, NY, asks: Since you talked about the Senate's dress code, here's a question about the other chamber of Congress. I'm curious if the House has a similar dress code as the Senate's? I do remember several years ago, a Black Democratic member of Congress came to the floor dressed up in a hoodie to protest the killing of Travon Martin. When that happened, some GOP members raised a big stink over that.
V & Z answer: The House has the same basic dress code as the Senate, though it's not written down anywhere, and so its implementation is somewhat a product of who is serving as Speaker and who is monitoring the entrances to the House floor.
The member of Congress you speak of is Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL), who took off his suit coat and put on the hoodie after reaching the rostrum. He was ruled out of order, but he kept speaking.
Oh, and if we haven't made this clear already, the dress code only applies to the floor of the respective chambers, and to a few other special spaces, like the Speaker's lobby. Also, we should have mentioned that for women members, not only are sleeveless blouses, slacks without jackets, and short skirts forbidden, so too are open-toed shoes.
R.P. in Redmond, WA, asks: You wrote: "[Evan] McMullin's biggest problem is that he's promised not to caucus with either party." What does "caucusing with" mean? It doesn't mean "will always vote how the caucus tells us to vote," since votes are not always exactly according to party lines. And I would think McMullin could still "bring home the pork" by negotiating about a bill, saying he'll vote for it, only if they modify it in some way. So anyway, what exactly are the rules if you caucus with a party?
V & Z answer: You're right that caucus members (or, in the case of Republicans, conference members) are not required to vote with their party all the time. However, members who join a caucus/conference are entitled to vote for the leadership of that caucus/conference. That means McMullin will be leaving an asset on the table (i.e., "I'll vote for you for leader if you support X, Y, and Z"). Further, committee assignments and chairs are determined by caucus/conference membership. And it's in committee that most of the pork is secured.
Answer to the question above: The 1920 Republican ticket was made up entirely of lieutenant governors. So, when former Lieutenant Governor of Ohio Warren Harding died in 1923, he was succeeded by former Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts Calvin Coolidge.
S.W. in Omaha, NE, asks: I was wondering about your take on media bias. I often gravitate toward outlets like MSNBC, Huffpost, and Politico because they align with my perspective. I look at your site religiously—I have reviewed it daily since 2016 and started looking at it when I stumbled across it in 2004. I look at The Hill for a conservative perspective that I can tolerate (most days). Recently, I came across AllSides.com and reviewed its media bias chart. Would you agree with the chart placement of the various media outlets?
V & Z answer: If one is trying to reduce things to a basic, easy-to-understand chart, then the AllSides chart is not terrible, though it's not great. It's absurd to group CNN and The Nation with Jacobin and Mother Jones. It's also ridiculous to describe The Hill and RCP as "centrist" (they are both plainly center-right). We'd agree with maybe 70% of the placements overall, assuming we could push back against the chart's (false) implication that the far-right outlets are the same distance from the center as the far-left outlets are. Slate or HuffPost are pretty lefty, yes, but they are nowhere near as extreme as The Daily Wire or Breitbart.
Even if the chart was absolutely stellar, however, it would be limited by at least three things. The first is that outlets do not spend all their time at the exact same spot on the spectrum. Fox, for example, is center-right during the day and far-right at night. CNN is center-left when Anderson Cooper is on, but veers much farther left when Don Lemon takes over. And so forth.
The second problem is that there are many kinds of bias, political bias is just one of them, and it's not the most important one. Far and away more important, to take just one example, is that virtually all media have a strong bias towards stories that are shocking and/or sensational. This is how Donald Trump gained traction in 2016, because outlets across the spectrum were giving endless attention to this seeming nut case who couldn't possibly be elected president.
And the third problem is that, even when we turn our attention to political bias, the most obvious manifestation of it is not particularly evident to the reader or viewer. While political bias may be revealed by the way in which a story or a politician is presented, it is considerably more significant in deciding what news/information an outlet does NOT cover. And it's very hard, unless you look at a lot of outlets very closely, to know what stories a particular outlet is skipping. For example, RCP notoriously leaves certain Democratic-friendly polls out of its database, making it seem as if Republican candidates are polling better than they actually are.
L.B. in Atlanta, CA, asks: All of the talk about student loan forgiveness completely ignores the basic problem—Why has the cost of college education risen so high, far outpacing general inflation?
My suspicion is that all the freely given government-backed loan programs have allowed colleges to raise prices to their now outrageous levels. But I have no data to back that up. If so, the government is now putting a band-aid on a problem they themselves created.
As educators—do you have more insight into why college costs have risen so high?
V & Z answer: As we have noted before, the people who teach and research and write are generally far removed from the people who spend the money. So, don't take our answer as gospel.
However, we will tell you that the greater availability of student loans has allowed universities to get away with raising tuition, to an extent. That said, there are also pressures operating on universities that have somewhat forced them to increase student costs. One of those is reductions in state funding, which largely mean that subsidies have been replaced by (more and more) loans. A second is bureaucratic bloat, driven in part by ever-increasing numbers of regulations. A third is an arms race, of sorts, to attract students with shiny, pretty campuses. Capital improvement are very, very expensive.
S.C in Mountain View, CA, asks: On Wednesday, you decried the fact that the Democrats don't seem to be campaigning on the threat to democracy coming from the MAGA wing of the Republican Party.
On Thursday, President Biden gave a speech about the threat to democracy coming from the MAGA wing of the Republican Party.
So, who is your fan in the West Wing who got your message?
V & Z answer: We'd like to believe it's the fellow who sits at the Resolute desk. We envision an urgent phone call: "So, Barack, what do you think we should do in response to the latest from (V) & (Z)?"
That said, if you allowed us our choice of one highly placed source as a reader, we'd choose the Mar-a-Lago mole.
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Sep02 Another Bad Day on the Legal Front for TrumpWorld
Sep02 Select Committee Wants to Chat with Newt
Sep02 McConnell-Scott Feud Is Now out in the Open
Sep02 Where in the World Is Carmen San D. Vance?
Sep02 This Week in Schadenfreude
Sep02 This Week in Freudenfreude
Sep01 The Dept. of Justice Has Responded to Trump's Request for a Special Master
Sep01 Will The Red Wave Become a Red Puddle?
Sep01 DeSantis Is a Test Case for Democracy
Sep01 Republicans Are Running Away from Their Own Positions on Abortion
Sep01 Over Half of GOP Nominees for Governor Are Election Deniers
Sep01 One of Trump's Lawyers Could Be in Trouble...
Sep01 ...No, Make that Two of Trump's Lawyers
Sep01 Mary Peltola Is Going to the House; Sarah Palin Is Going Home
Sep01 House Conservatives Are Preparing to Impeach Biden
Sep01 Over 40% of Americans Think a Civil War Is Coming
Aug31 You Win Some, You Lose Some?
Aug31 A Brief Reprieve for Kemp (and Trump)
Aug31 Should Democratic Candidates Campaign on Democracy?
Aug31 Fetterman Declines Debate with Oz
Aug31 So Much for Mayor Caruso
Aug31 Mikhail Gorbachev, 1931-2022
Aug30 Trump's Got Trouble... And He Knows It
Aug30 Top Gov's Stunt Appears to Have Crashed and Burned
Aug30 Women's Vote Is Surging, at Least in Some States
Aug30 Cheney 2024 Would Help Trump 2024
Aug30 Blake Masters Is Running Quite the Campaign
Aug30 Today's Ratfu**ing News
Aug29 Republicans Are Quieter About the Mar-a-Lago Search Now
Aug29 Biden Is Up More in New Polls
Aug29 Democrats Have Read the Tea Leaves
Aug29 Could the Democrats Hold the House?
Aug29 Mark Meadows and Sidney Powell Are Subpoenaed in Georgia
Aug29 Is Ticket Splitting Dead and Gone?
Aug29 Senate GOP super PAC is Canceling Ads in Alaska and Arizona
Aug29 Trump Is Stiffing... His Own Social Media Site
Aug29 Oz Changes His Strategy
Aug29 Crist Picks A Teacher as His Running Mate
Aug28 Sunday Mailbag
Aug27 Saturday Q&A
Aug26 Lights, Camera... Redaction?
Aug26 California Goes Electric
Aug26 Crist Raises $1 Million on First Day as Democratic Nominee...
Aug26 ...Meanwhile, RNC Is Begging Donors for Money
Aug26 What Happened in NY-12?
Aug26 This Week in Schadenfreude: Dere Goes Da Judge
Aug26 This Week in Freudenfreude: Reunited
Aug25 Biden Cancels Student Loan Debt
Aug25 Maybe the Sky Will Not Fall for the Democrats in November